November 22, 2013

Not your typical rush-hour on I-295: 'Oh, wow, it's a plane'

There were no collisions or injuries as a two-seat aircraft landed on the highway Thursday evening and taxied for a half-mile. 'It was amazing,' a state trooper says.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH — Investigators are working to determine what forced a pilot to land a two-seat airplane in the southbound lanes of Interstate 295 during rush hour Thursday evening.

click image to enlarge

Pilot Sachin Hejaji of Falmouth talks on his phone after making an emergency landing of a small plane in the southbound lane of Interstate 295 around mile 13 in Cumberland about 5 p.m. Thursday.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Sachin Hejaji

2013 Press Herald File Photo

Additional Photos Below

Sachin Hejaji, 42, of Falmouth, landed the Cessna 152 around 5 p.m. without injuring himself or anyone on the ground or damaging any vehicles.

“It was amazing,” said state Trooper Justin Cooley. “He landed in the middle of the road. It was luck. I don’t know any other way to put it.”

After landing on the busy highway in Cumberland, Hejaji taxied the plane for about a half-mile before pulling into the median in Falmouth, about a half-mile north of the Johnson Road overpass.

Standing behind the plane after his emergency landing, Hejaji was shaken up but not injured. “I’m not in the right frame of mind to talk,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

The airplane, built in 1985 and leased by Hejaji from Maine Aviation Aircraft Leasing of Portland, did not appear damaged. As police and firefighters huddled nearby, Hejaji stood alone, gazing at the white-and-red plane.

Cooley said Hejaji, who was flying alone, told police that he was returning to the Portland International Jetport from Waterville at an altitude of 2,000 feet when the plane’s engine lost power. He decided to land on the interstate.

Jacob Alves, 27, who works in Yarmouth, was carpooling home to Gorham with a co-worker when he noticed lights descending onto the road about a half-mile ahead. Cars began to slow, and by the time he reached the aircraft it was stopped, Alves said.

“It didn’t even seem like it was anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “By the time we got up near it, we said, ‘Oh wow, it's a plane.’ ”

The landing snarled traffic in both directions on the interstate. Police were able to keep one lane of traffic moving around the airplane after Hejaji pulled it into the median, but Cooley said southbound traffic was backed up for miles, into Freeport.

Northbound traffic was backed up from Falmouth into South Portland. Police said the congestion was caused by drivers who were looking at the plane.

“Traffic was literally slowed by curiosity,” said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation.

Talbot, who works in Augusta, said he was driving south when traffic slowed to a halt in Freeport. It took him another 50 minutes to reach the site in Falmouth where the plane was parked.

Around 7 p.m., the state shut down the southbound lanes in Yarmouth and rerouted traffic onto Route 1. The rare closure allowed police to put the airplane on a flatbed truck and move it to a state garage off Route 1 in Yarmouth.

Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said her agency will try to determine what prompted the emergency landing.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a statement Thursday night saying that, without injuries or damage, that agency will not investigate the incident.

Jim Iacono, director of business development for Maine Aviation, a charter service based at the jetport, confirmed that the craft belongs to the company but would not provide further details.

Gabe Souza, a Portland Press Herald photographer, went up in the same plane earlier in the day with a different pilot to take photographs over Cumberland and Yarmouth. He said there were no apparent mechanical problems with the plane, but when he opened a window to take a photograph, the door opened.

Chris Griffith of Scarborough, who has been a pilot for 29 years and owns a Cessna, praised Hejaji for remaining calm under pressure.

“The most important thing he did is that he didn’t panic,” said Griffith, the chairman of an organization known as Friends of the Biddeford Airport, who said he doesn’t know Hejaji personally. “It sounds as though he remained very calm, cool and collected.”

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A commuter took this photo from his vehicle on Interstate 295 showing a plane at left after it made an emergency landing on the highway Thursday evening.

Photo by Jacob Alves

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Cars drive past the small plane, upper left, that made an emergency landing Thursday on I-295. The landing backed up rush-hour traffic for miles in both directions on the interstate.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer.

click image to enlarge

State police and Maine DOT officials look over a small plane that made an emergency landing in the southbound lane of I-295 in Falmouth. “It was amazing. He landed in the middle of the road. It was luck. I don’t know any other way to put it,” a trooper said.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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